HUMANE TREATMENT AND SLAUGHTER OF DECAPODS
We are often asked - what is the most humane way to kill a crab or a lobster? Whilst we think that the slaughter of any animal, if it is to take place, should only be carried out by a trained and licenced professional, the reality is that until the law is changed, many of these are slaughtered by the consumer at home and by chefs who are inadequately informed. There are no official government guidelines as they are not yet legally recognised as sentient. So, until they are, here is our guide.
Inhumane Slaughter Methods
All of the following methods have been described as inhumane by the EU's Animal Health and Welfare Scientific (AHAW) Panel (4):
Live boiling. During this process lobsters and crabs thrash, try to escape, and shed their limbs, known to be a sign of stress. The process takes the animal up to 3 minutes to die (5)
Chilling in the freezer/ice slurry before live boiling. There is no evidence to suggest that this induces anaesthesia rather than just paralysis (6). It may in fact lead to a slower death.
Live carving / dismemberment. Whilst some uses of the knife may be more humane than others (see the RSPCA's guide), it is vital that the correct nerve chains are severed quickly. In particular, lobsters must be severed lengthways all the way down the body. All too often this is not the case, with chefs claiming splitting the head of a chilled lobster kills it instantly. This method is highly likely to cause pain - even if the creatures have been previously chilled to a torpor (4)
Humane Slaughter Methods
International guidelines exist and are largely in agreement. The most comprehensive advice is provided in this guide by RSPCA Australia, who recommend electrical stunning/slaughter (using special equipment) as the quickest and most humane method. Devices such as the Crustastun are available for restaurants and Nofima's Stansas machine or Ace Aquatech's wet stunner for large-scale processors (10).
Alternatively, the next best method is appropriate chilling for the species (either in air or water), followed by the mechanical destruction of the brain with a sharp knife by professionals trained in the unique biology of each species. The methods for crabs and lobsters are different. Both animals must be chilled, usually in air, depending on the species. Then crabs can be spiked quickly through the appropriate part of the body; lobsters must be turned upside down and sliced from head to tail very quickly to sever the chains of ganglia that run through the body. This method is not ideal as it can take many seconds to transect a lobster this way, but it is likely to be much quicker death than boiling alive.
At Crustacean Compassion, we recommend that chefs and consumers who do wish to slaughter crustaceans read this guide:
There are many examples of good practice. Waitrose stun their UK Brown Crabs and Lobsters, as shown by this correspondance:
And Tesco's Aquaculture Manager states that:
"All of our Tesco Own Brand UK Brown Crab and Lobster is humanely stunned, prior to slaughter".
Some restaurants such as Locanda Locatelli have committed to using the Crustastun. But with no legal guidelines, there is no obligation for the food industry to treat crabs, lobsters and crayfish humanely, either in storage or during slaughter.
The government and the food industry think that the British public don't care about crustaceans. Will you prove them wrong?
Credit: Chef Preps the Lobster by Cascadian Farm, Flickr. Shirt logo pixellated
4. Animal Welfare Act (1999), pdf, accessed 29-4-16
5. Norwegian Animal Welfare Act (2011) pdf, accessed 29-4-16
6. Animal Welfare Ordinance (2008) pdf, accessed 29-4-16
7. The EFSA Journal (2005) 292, 1-46 – Opinion on the “Aspects of the biology andwelfare of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes”. Accessed at on 27 December 2013.
8. Roth, B. and Øines, S., 2010. Stunning and killing of edible crabs (Cancer pagurus), Animal Welfare, Volume 19, Number 3, August 2010 , pp. 287-294(8). Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.
9. Fishcount (2014) "Welfare during killing of crabs, lobsters and crayfish" webpage, accessed 8-3-16
10. Neil, D. and Thompson, J., 2012. "The stress induced by the Crustastun™ process in two commercially important decapod crustaceans: the edible brown Cancer pagurus and the European lobster Homarus gammarus".Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the School of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Accessed at on 16 November 2013.
11. Neil, D., 2012. The effect of the Crustastun™ on nerve activity in crabs and lobsters. Scientific report. Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the School of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Accessed at on 16 November 2013.
12. Neil, D., 2012. The effect of the Crustastun™ on nerve activity in two commercially important decapod crustaceans: the edible brown Cancer pagurus and the European lobster Homarus gammarus. Scientific report. Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the School of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Accessed at on 16 November 2013.
13. Electrical stunning of edible crabs, report no: 18/2013, Nofima, ISBN 978-82-8296-0279-3 (pdf).